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632 Phil. 276

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 183879, April 14, 2010 ]

ROSITA SY, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

R E S O L U T I O N

NACHURA, J.:

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Decision [1] dated July 22, 2008 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 30628.

Rosita Sy (Sy) was charged with one count of illegal recruitment in Criminal Case No. 02-0537 and one count of estafa in Criminal Case No. 02-0536. In a joint decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Sy was exonerated of the illegal recruitment charge. However, she was convicted of the crime of estafa. Thus, the instant appeal involves only Criminal Case No. 02-0536 for the crime of estafa.

The Information[2] for estafa reads:

That sometime in the month of March 1997, in the City of Las Piñas, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously defraud Felicidad Mendoza-Navarro y Landicho in the following manner, to wit: the said accused by means of false pretenses and fraudulent representation which she made to the said complainant that she can deploy her for employment in Taiwan, and complainant convinced by said representations, gave the amount of P120,000.00 to the said accused for processing of her papers, the latter well knowing that all her representations and manifestations were false and were only made for the purpose of obtaining the said amount, but once in her possession[,] she misappropriated, misapplied and converted the same to her own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of Felicidad Mendoza-Navarro y Landicho in the aforementioned amount of P120,000.00.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[3]

On May 27, 2007, Sy was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the crimes charged. Joint trial ensued thereafter.

As summarized by the CA, the facts of the case are as follows:

Version of the Prosecution

Sometime in March 1997, appellant, accompanied by Corazon Miranda (or "Corazon"), went to the house of Corazon's sister, Felicidad Navarro (or "Felicidad"), in Talisay, Batangas to convince her (Felicidad) to work abroad. Appellant assured Felicidad of a good salary and entitlement to a yearly vacation if she decides to take a job in Taiwan. On top of these perks, she shall receive compensation in the amount of Php120,000.00. Appellant promised Felicidad that she will take care of the processing of the necessary documents, including her passport and visa. Felicidad told appellant that she will think about the job offer.

Two days later, Felicidad succumbed to appellant's overseas job solicitation. With Corazon in tow, the sisters proceeded to appellant's residence in Better Homes, Moonwalk, Las Piñas City. Thereat, Felicidad handed to appellant the amount of Php60,000.00. In the third week of March 1997, Felicidad returned to appellant's abode and paid to the latter another Php60,000.00. The latter told her to come back the following day. In both instances, no receipt was issued by appellant to acknowledge receipt of the total amount of Php120,000.00 paid by Felicidad.

On Felicidad's third trip to appellant's house, the latter brought her to Uniwide in Sta. Cruz, Manila, where a male person showed to them the birth certificate that Felicidad would use in applying for a Taiwanese passport. The birth certificate was that of a certain Armida Lim, born to Margarita Galvez and Lim Leng on 02 June 1952. Felicidad was instructed on how to write Armida Lim's Chinese name.

Subsequently, appellant contacted Felicidad and thereafter met her at the Bureau of Immigration office. Thereat, Felicidad, posing and affixing her signature as Armida G. Lim, filled out the application forms for the issuance of Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) and Immigrant Certificate of Registration (ICR). She attached to the application forms her own photo. Felicidad agreed to use the name of Armida Lim as her own because she already paid to appellant the amount of Php120,000.00.

In December 1999, appellant sent to Felicidad the birth certificate of Armida Lim, the Marriage Contract of Armida Lim's parents, ACR No. E128390, and ICR No. 317614. These documents were submitted to and eventually rejected by the Taiwanese authorities, triggering the filing of illegal recruitment and estafa cases against appellant.

Version of the Defense

Appellant denied offering a job to Felicidad or receiving any money from her. She asserted that when she first spoke to Felicidad at the latter's house, she mentioned that her husband and children freely entered Taiwan because she was a holder of a Chinese passport. Felicidad commented that many Filipino workers in Taiwan were holding Chinese passports.

Three weeks later, Felicidad and Corazon came to her house in Las Piñas and asked her if she knew somebody who could help Felicidad get a Chinese ACR and ICR for a fee.

Appellant introduced a certain Amelia Lim, who, in consideration of the amount of Php120,000.00, offered to Felicidad the use of the name of her mentally deficient sister, Armida Lim. Felicidad agreed. On their second meeting at appellant's house, Felicidad paid Php60,000.00 to Amelia Lim and they agreed to see each other at Uniwide the following day. That was the last time appellant saw Felicidad and Amelia Lim.[4]

On January 8, 2007, the RTC rendered a decision,[5] the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered the court finds the accused Rosita Sy NOT GUILTY of the crime of Illegal Recruitment and she is hereby ACQUITTED of the said offense. As regards the charge of Estafa, the court finds the accused GUILTY thereof and hereby sentences her to an indeterminate penalty of four (4) years of prision correctional as minimum to 11 years of prision mayor, as maximum. The accused is ordered to reimburse the amount of sixty-thousand (Php60,000.00) to the private complainant.

SO ORDERED.[6]

Aggrieved, Sy filed an appeal for her conviction of estafa. On July 22, 2008, the CA rendered a Decision,[7] affirming with modification the conviction of Sy, viz.:

WHEREFORE, with the MODIFICATION sentencing accused-appellant to suffer the indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal, as maximum, the appealed decision is AFFIRMED in all other respects.

SO ORDERED.[8]

Hence, this petition.

The sole issue for resolution is whether Sy should be held liable for estafa, penalized under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).[9]

Swindling or estafa is punishable under Article 315 of the RPC. There are three ways of committing estafa, viz.: (1) with unfaithfulness or abuse of confidence; (2) by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts; or (3) through fraudulent means. The three ways of committing estafa may be reduced to two, i.e., (1) by means of abuse of confidence; or (2) by means of deceit.

The elements of estafa in general are the following: (a) that an accused defrauded another by abuse of confidence, or by means of deceit; and (b) that damage and prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation is caused the offended party or third person.

The act complained of in the instant case is penalized under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the RPC, wherein estafa is committed by any person who shall defraud another by false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud. It is committed by using fictitious name, or by pretending to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or by means of other similar deceits.

The elements of estafa by means of deceit are the following, viz.: (a) that there must be a false pretense or fraudulent representation as to his power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions; (b) that such false pretense or fraudulent representation was made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (c) that the offended party relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act, or fraudulent means and was induced to part with his money or property; and (d) that, as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage.[10]

In the instant case, all the foregoing elements are present. It was proven beyond reasonable doubt, as found by the RTC and affirmed by the CA, that Sy misrepresented and falsely pretended that she had the capacity to deploy Felicidad Navarro (Felicidad) for employment in Taiwan. The misrepresentation was made prior to Felicidad's payment to Sy of One Hundred Twenty Thousand Pesos (P120,000.00). It was Sy's misrepresentation and false pretenses that induced Felicidad to part with her money. As a result of Sy's false pretenses and misrepresentations, Felicidad suffered damages as the promised employment abroad never materialized and the money she paid was never recovered.

The fact that Felicidad actively participated in the processing of the illegal travel documents will not exculpate Sy from liability. Felicidad was a hapless victim of circumstances and of fraud committed by Sy. She was forced to take part in the processing of the falsified travel documents because she had already paid P120,000.00. Sy committed deceit by representing that she could secure Felicidad with employment in Taiwan, the primary consideration that induced the latter to part with her money. Felicidad was led to believe by Sy that she possessed the power and qualifications to provide Felicidad with employment abroad, when, in fact, she was not licensed or authorized to do so. Deceived, Felicidad parted with her money and delivered the same to petitioner. Plainly, Sy is guilty of estafa.

Illegal recruitment and estafa cases may be filed simultaneously or separately. The filing of charges for illegal recruitment does not bar the filing of estafa, and vice versa. Sy's acquittal in the illegal recruitment case does not prove that she is not guilty of estafa. Illegal recruitment and estafa are entirely different offenses and neither one necessarily includes or is necessarily included in the other. A person who is convicted of illegal recruitment may, in addition, be convicted of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the RPC.[11] In the same manner, a person acquitted of illegal recruitment may be held liable for estafa. Double jeopardy will not set in because illegal recruitment is malum prohibitum, in which there is no necessity to prove criminal intent, whereas estafa is malum in se, in the prosecution of which, proof of criminal intent is necessary.[12]

The penalty prescribed for estafa under Article 315 of the RPC is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, if the amount defrauded is over Twelve Thousand Pesos (P12,000.00) but does not exceed Twenty-two Thousand Pesos (P22,000.00), and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00); but the total penalty that may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties that may be imposed under the provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be.

The addition of one year imprisonment for each additional P10,000.00, in excess of P22,000.00, is the incremental penalty. The incremental penalty rule is a mathematical formula for computing the penalty to be actually imposed using the prescribed penalty as the starting point. This special rule is applicable in estafa and in theft.[13]

In estafa, the incremental penalty is added to the maximum period of the penalty prescribed, at the discretion of the court, in order to arrive at the penalty to be actually imposed, which is the maximum term within the context of the Indeterminate Sentence Law (ISL).[14] Under the ISL, attending circumstances in a case are applied in conjunction with certain rules of the Code in order to determine the penalty to be actually imposed based on the penalty prescribed by the Code for the offense. The circumstance is that the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00, and the incremental penalty rule is utilized to fix the penalty actually imposed.[15]

To compute the incremental penalty, the amount defrauded shall be subtracted by P22,000.00, and the difference shall be divided by P10,000.00, and any fraction of P10,000.00 shall be discarded.[16]

In the instant case, prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period is the imposable penalty. The duration of prision correccional in its maximum period is from four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day to six (6) years; while prision mayor in its minimum period is from six (6) years and one (1) day to eight (8) years. The incremental penalty for the amount defrauded would be an additional nine years imprisonment, to be added to the maximum imposable penalty of eight years. Thus, the CA committed no reversible error in sentencing Sy to an indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal, as maximum.

As to the amount that should be returned or restituted by Sy, the sum that Felicidad gave to Sy, i.e., P120,000.00, should be returned in full. The fact that Felicidad was not able to produce receipts is not fatal to the case of the prosecution since she was able to prove by her positive testimony that Sy was the one who received the money ostensibly in consideration of an overseas employment in Taiwan.[17]

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated July 22, 2008 in CA-G.R. CR No. 30628, sentencing petitioner Rosita Sy to an indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal, as maximum, is hereby AFFIRMED. We, however, MODIFY the CA Decision as to the amount of civil indemnity, in that Sy is ordered to reimburse the amount of One Hundred Twenty Thousand Pesos (P120,000.00) to private complainant Felicidad Navarro.

SO ORDERED.

Corona, (Chairperson), Velasco, Jr., Peralta, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.



[1] Penned by Associate Justice Rebecca de Guia-Salvador, with Associate Justices Vicente S.E. Veloso and Ricardo R. Rosario, concurring; rollo, pp. 21-37.

[2] Rollo, p. 48.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 22-25.

[5] Penned by Judge Erlinda Nicolas-Alvaro, RTC, Branch 198, Las Piñas City; id. at 39-44.

[6] Id. at 44.

[7] Supra note 1.

[8] Id. at 36.

[9] Petitioner assigned the following errors in the CA Decision:

I

THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN HOLDING THAT PETITIONER OFFERED OVERSEAS JOB TO PRIVATE RESPONDENT.

II

THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN HOLDING THAT PETITIONER MISREPRESENTED AND FALSELY PRETENDED TO RESPONDENT THAT SHE HAD THE POWER AND CAPACITY TO DEPLOY HER FOR A WORK IN TAIWAN.

III

THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN HOLDING THAT PETITIONER'S MISREPRESENTATION AND FALSE PRETENSES WAS WHAT INDUCED RESPONDENT TO PART WITH HER MONEY. (Rollo, p. 13).

[10] R.R. Paredes v. Calilung, G.R. No. 156055, March 5, 2007, 517 SCRA 369; Cosme, Jr. v. People, G.R. No. 149753, November 27, 2006, 508 SCRA 190; Jan-Dec Construction Corporation v. CA, G.R. No. 146818, February 6, 2006, 481 SCRA 556.

[11] People v. Billaber, 465 Phil. 726 (2004).

[12] Id.

[13] People v. Temporada, G.R. No. 173473, December 17, 2008, 574 SCRA 258.

[14] Under the ISL, in imposing a prison sentence for an offense punished by the Revised Penal Code, or its amendments, the court shall sentence an accused to an indeterminate sentence the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the said Code, and the minimum which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense; and if the offense is punished by any other law, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence, the maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law and the minimum shall not be less than the minimum term prescribed by the same.

[15] People v. Temporada, supra note 13, at 263-264.

[16] Id. at 260.

[17] People v. Gonzales-Flores, 408 Phil. 855 (2001); People v. Mercado, 364 Phil. 148 (1999).

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